Practicing for the Cure

Sara Szeglowski was 38 years old and had just celebrated her son’s first birthday when she was diagnosed with Stage 2B breast cancer. Within a year of her diagnosis, constant pain had become a part of everyday life, she struggled to remember her son’s birthdate when they visited the doctor’s office and she had lost physical mobility, only able to raise her arm six inches from her side.

Enter yoga, the antidote to cancer treatment. Proven to reduce stress and fatigue, practicing yoga can lead to improved quality of life for women with breast cancer. “I went back to yoga, slowly and fearfully,” Sara explained. “I was afraid I would hurt myself, devastated by how different my practice was from when I had been teaching and practicing regularly a few years before, but my time on my mat quickly became my time to get to know my body again.” Slowly but surely, Sara rediscovered her strength through yoga, learning how particular movements could strengthen one small muscle at a time. Soon everything began to fall into place.

While it began with physical benefits, Sara also found mental and spiritual strength in her practice. “At first, it was purely releasing pain and increasing range of motion. I think it's very often the case that yoga starts with the physical—it did with me—but I kept going back because it helped me feel less afraid, more grounded. I was kinder and less focused on my own problems,” she recounts. In fact, yoga and meditation topped the list as two alternative and integrative therapies that benefit breast cancer patients the most, according to a recent study.

Derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj,” the meaning of the word “yoga” is “union”—and this is exactly what it did for Sara, uniting her with both her self and the support of her community. “The day-to-day community of the studio helped me to emerge out of my broken self. In the same way the day-to-day treatment made the unbearable cancer treatment endurable, the day-to-day kindness and support of my yoga community made dealing with my new life possible,” she relates.

Inspired by her personal experience, Sara shifted from a high-pressure corporate job to open her own yoga studio, Shine Yoga, after her treatment was complete—a place to support people in cultivating relationships with their own bodies again, to help them overcome fear and find comfort within. Sara describes Shine Yoga as “a community of support and authenticity, a place where people can be vulnerable and brave. It’s a place where we move and love movement, where we learn together and connect with each other so that life in the studio can move into life off the mat.”

It’s stories like Sara’s that inspired Project:OM, a movement created by Manduka to encourage 1 million people to join yoga classes across the country this Mother’s Day weekend to raise awareness and donations for breast cancer research.

Kristin Hill, co-founder of Duluth Yoga Studio and Project:OM studio participant, was inspired to join the campaign to support friends and yogis at the studio who have fought, or are currently fighting, breast cancer. “To us, Project:OM means that we wholeheartedly support the women and their families who have battled breast cancer. We want to honor the ones we know—and the ones we don't—by supporting them in their journeys, and by celebrating our bodies and minds and all we can achieve,” she explains. Kristin looks forward to seeing the sense of community—both at home and across the nation—emerge as a result of the campaign: people from all walks of life coming together to acknowledge, support and connect. “We believe that yoga helps to strengthen, maintain and heal bodies and minds, and is a perfect complement to our struggles in life, both big and small,” she concludes.

Sara and Kristin are both participating in Project:OM by offering free, donation-based classes this weekend to help end breast cancer. Make an impact this Mother’s Day—find a class or event in your area.